Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Beatles Top 100 & The Beatles Covers Top 20 Countdown

AFHI & Recordman, I was reading the list of your choices of best Beatles covers - and they almost made me change my own list - a couple of times. However, being steadfast and true (otherwise known as stubborn) is one of my foundamental qualities, so I held my ground. I will, however, mention the songs that presented me with a dilemma when the time comes. Now, on with the list.


At #16 in my list of Beatles covers is a lady who was a friend of the Beatles, being Mick Jagger's girlfriend for a good part of the mid to late 60s. The song Yesterday would be an obvious choice, after all she did have a minor UK hit (#36) with it in 1965. But that Faithfull, the young, radiant, clear voiced beauty is not my preferred version of Faithfull: it's Faithfull the survivor of years of drug abuse, homelessness, and suffering from anorexia, who came back with a vengeance with her 1979 album Broken English that I love most. In that great album, there's her magnum opus The Ballad of Lucy Jordan (if any of you don't know it, check it out pronto), there's the title track, there's the punch in the gut Why D'Ya Do It, there's the Lennonesque Guilt, and finally there's the song by the man himself, Working Class Hero. Lennon's bitterly sarcastic song about working class individuals being processed into the middle classes, into the machine, fitted perfectly to Faithfull's world-weary countenance and bottom-of-the ashtray voice; it gave the song despair, which helped make its bitterness more palatable. With this record, Faithfull began a new career, much more illustrious than the previous one.


At #15 is a cover of Across The Universe. Recordman has proposed a very interesting cover by Slovenian electro-industrial rockers Laibach. AFHI tempted me with Rufus Wainwright's version. My choice, however, is one of my favorite artists of all time; David Bowie. Plus the song has the seal of approval of Lennon himself - he played guitar and sang backing vocals on the track. It appears on Bowie's 1975 album Young Americans.


Being on the subject of Across The Universe, let me kill two birds with one stone here. AFHI proposed, among his 20 favorites, T.V. Carpio's heartbreaking version of I Want to Hold Your Hand from the movie Across the Universe. I absolutely love that movie, in fact I once had a heated argument with a friend who didn't like it. (He tried to blame me for recommending it to him. "The fact that you have no taste is no fault of mine", I replied.)

I wanted to include a song from the movie in this list, but I didn't, for one simple reason: I didn't know which one to choose. There are so many good ones.

The second bird that I'm killing with the same stone also belongs to AFHI: He has Wes Montgomery's instrumental version of A Day In The Life in his list. It's a great one, as is one by Brian Auger. However, I decided not to include any instrumentals in my list. I'm more of a lyrics man and I maintain that the Beatles lyrics, even their simplest ones, deserve to be heard.

Having said that, if I were to choose one instrumental version of A Day In The Life, I would have chosen Jeff Beck's version from the soundtrack of Across The Universe for reasons of dramatic resonance. So, two birds with one stone, here's a little extra, to celebrate a film that I love, my favorite Beatles song of all time and instrumental music in general. AFHI, thanks for giving me this opportunity.


At #14, it's serendipity that while AFHI just mentioned (a few hours before this gets published, but in real time, as I'm writing this) his regret for not including Something by Shirley Bassey in his list, I had already planned to include her in mine.

There are so many versions of Something to choose from: AFHI has selected James Brown, I also like what Andy Williams does with the song, but for me Dame Shirley offers the definitive version. It feels as if she sneaked into George Harrison's mind and uncovered the song's secrets.


At #13 is another song with practically thousands of versions to choose from. Paul's Yesterday is the song in question. After going through many versions, I decided to go with the one by Frank Sinatra. Ol' Blue Eyes had a special way of putting stoic resignation in his songs, with a touch of bravado and a hint of melancholy. Songs like One For My Baby, It Was A Very Good Year and My Way attest to that. This was the spirit that his Yesterday possesed and therefore survived against McCartney's definitive version. Ray Charles, Matt Monro, Marianne Faithfull, all had great versions, but no cover of Yesterday, in my opinion, matched Frankie's.


Now, back to our list of Beatles songs that were actually sung by the Beatles. At #16 is a song that was one of McCartney's contributions to the magnificent album that is Revolver (1966).

A drug song masquerading as a love song, Got to Get You Into My Life was written after McCartney's first experiments with marijuana. "It's actually an ode to pot," he explained, "like someone else might write an ode to chocolate or a good claret."

Lennon described the song as the Beatles "doing our Tamla/Motown bit." But at first, Got to Get You Into My Life was an acoustic number. An early take (available on Anthology 2) has McCartney singing in falsetto where the brass eventually shows up in the chorus.

The horns were a remnant of the band's idea to record Revolver in Memphis. They had long emulated the bass and drum sounds found on American soul records, so they recruited guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MG's to produce and dispatched Brian Epstein to scout potential recording locations. All the studios wanted an exorbitant fee to host the Beatles, so they ended up back at Abbey Road.

Thomas Ward of AllMusic said, "McCartney's always been a great vocalist, and this is perhaps the best example of his singing on Revolver. One of the overlooked gems on the album." When asked about the song in his 1980 Playboy interview, John Lennon said, "Paul's again. I think that was one of his best songs, too."


At #15 is one of my personal favorites. Help! was written to be the title track to the Fab Four's second movie — a madcap action comedy originally conceived for Peter Sellers. But the note of desperation in the song was real. "I meant it," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970 (particularly lines like "And now my life has changed in oh-so-many ways/My independence seems to vanish in the haze"). "The whole Beatle thing was just beyond comprehension."

By 1965, Lennon was exhausted from the Beatles' nonstop touring, recording and filming schedule. Off the road, Lennon felt trapped at his estate outside London with his wife, Cynthia, and young son, Julian. "Cynthia wanted to settle John down, pipe and slippers," said McCartney. "The minute she said that to me, I thought, 'Kiss of death.' I know my mate, and that is not what he wants." Lennon also was feeling "paranoid," according to Harrison, about how he looked. "It was my Fat Elvis period," Lennon said. "I was eating and drinking like a pig. I was depressed, and I was crying out for help."

McCartney, in contrast, was taking full advantage of Swinging London, dating Jane Asher — a beautiful young actress from a prominent family who introduced him to high society — and seeing other girls on the side. John "was well jealous of [me] because he couldn't do that," said McCartney years later. "There were cracks appearing [in Lennon's life with Cynthia], but he could only paste them over by staying at home and getting wrecked."

Lennon wrote most of Help! by himself at his estate and then summoned McCartney to help him complete it, which they did in a couple of hours at one of their regular songwriting sessions in Lennon's upstairs music room. Lennon originally wrote Help! as a midtempo ballad, but the Beatles decided to amp up the arrangement in the studio, with Harrison's surf-guitar licks, Starr's thundering tom-toms and the reverse call-and-response vocals that would become the song's trademark. "I don't like the recording that much," Lennon confessed. "We did it too fast trying to be commercial."

Making movies wasn't as fun as it used to be either. "The movie was out of our control," Lennon told Playboy. "With A Hard Day's Night, we had a lot of input, and it was semirealistic. But with Help! [director] Dick Lester didn't tell us what it was all about."

The Beatles all admitted that it probably wasn't the director's fault that the band had so little input. "A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we were making the film," Starr said. "If you look at pictures of us, you can see a lot of red-eyed shots; they were red from the dope we were smoking."

"We were smoking marijuana for breakfast during that period," Lennon said. "Nobody could communicate with us. It was all glazed eyes and giggling all the time. In our own world."

This is the right version, but the video is slightly irrelevant:


This is a live version:


At #14, here's a song we've already presented today, in our best covers list. The tune that would go on to become the most covered song in history began as something called Scrambled Eggs. It also began in a dream.

"It fell out of bed," Paul McCartney once said about the origins of Yesterday. "I had a piano by my bedside, and I must have dreamed it, because I tumbled out of bed and put my hands on the piano keys and I had a tune in my head. It was just all there, a complete thing. I couldn't believe it. It came too easy."

In fact, it was so fully formed that he was sure he must have unconsciously plagiarized a melody he'd heard somewhere else. So for months he allowed the unpolished song to sit on the shelf, occasionally strumming a few bars for George Martin or Ringo Starr and asking, "Is this like something?"

Martin recalled McCartney playing him the song as far back as January 1964, before the Beatles even landed in America. McCartney's own recollection has him writing the tune later, but regardless, John Lennon confirmed that the song "was around for months and months before we finally completed it."

For a long time, McCartney couldn't get past the placeholder words "Scrambled eggs/Oh, my baby, how I love your legs." He finished the actual lyrics on a holiday with his girlfriend, actress Jane Asher, creating a frank poem of regret that he has called "the most complete song I have ever written."

Recording the track was more challenging. As Martin explained, "It wasn't a three-guitars-and-drums kind of song. I said, 'Put down guitar and voice just to begin with, Paul, and then we'll see what we can do with it.'" After trying several different approaches, including one with Lennon on the organ, Martin made an unorthodox suggestion. "I said, 'What about having a string accompaniment, you know, fairly tastefully done?' Paul said, 'Yuk! I don't want any of that Mantovani rubbish. I don't want any of that syrupy stuff.' Then I thought back to my classical days, and I said, 'Well, what about a string quartet, then?'"

McCartney still wasn't convinced. "I said, 'Are you kidding?'" he recalled. "'This is a Rock group!' I hated the idea. [Martin] said, 'Well, let's just try it, and if you hate it, we can just wipe it and go back to you and the guitar.' So I sat at the piano and worked out the arrangements with him, and we did it, and, of course, we liked it."

The recording captures the Beatles' inventive spirit, opening the door to a willingness to experiment with new sounds. Yesterday signaled to the world that the Beatles — and Rock & Roll — had made a sudden leap from brash adolescence to literate maturity.

After the session, Martin took manager Brian Epstein aside and quietly suggested that since none of the other Beatles contributed to the track, perhaps the song should be issued as a Paul McCartney solo record. Epstein's response, according to Martin, was, "This is the Beatles — we don't differentiate." Meanwhile, the group was still unsure about Yesterday and didn't release it as a single in the UK. "We were a little embarrassed by it," McCartney said. "We were a Rock & Roll band."

Yesterday quickly went to Number One in the US. (It was one of a half-dozen tracks Capitol left off the American version of the Help! soundtrack and was released as a single instead.) It is the most popular song in the Beatles' catalog, recorded more than 2,500 times — by everyone from Ray Charles and Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra and Daffy Duck — a fact that did not necessarily sit well with Lennon, who had nothing to do with it. Lennon once joked, "I go to restaurants and the groups always play Yesterday. I even signed a guy's violin in Spain after he played us Yesterday. He couldn't understand that I didn't write the song. But I guess he couldn't have gone from table to table playing I Am the Walrus."


This is a live version:


Finally for today, at #13 is a song that was released as a double A-side single with We Can Work It Out on December 1965.

Day Tripper was "a drug song," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. "I've always needed a drug to survive. The [other Beatles], too, but I always had more, I always took more pills and more of everything, 'cause I'm more crazy."

The song was Lennon's indictment of poseurs. "Day trippers are people who go on a day trip, right? Usually on a ferryboat or something," he said. "But [the song] was kind of 'you're just a weekend hippie.'" In contrast, "We saw ourselves as full-time trippers," McCartney said, "fully committed drivers."

The in-jokes didn't stop with that bit of wordplay. The Beatles put in "references that we knew our friends would get but that the Great British Public might not," McCartney said. "So 'she's a big teaser' was 'she's a prick teaser.' . . . We thought that'd be fun to put in."

Lennon and McCartney conceded that Day Tripper had been a "forced" song, written on deadline for a scheduled December single. While Lennon's blues-based guitar hook may have been his answer to the Rolling Stones' recent #1 hit, Satisfaction, Day Tripper was more complex, a gleaming combination of muscle and intricate arranging.

Lennon's riff builds to a midsong rave-up that climaxes with soaring harmonies and Harrison climbing a scale behind Lennon's solo, until Starr's tambourine roll brings back the original groove. Lennon's half sister, Julia Baird, was perplexed by the complicated nature of the song when she attended the recording session. "It seemed like bits and pieces were being put together," she said. "I can't understand how they got the final version."

Day Tripper was planned as a single, but just a few days later, the Beatles recorded We Can Work It Out, which was generally thought to be a more commercial song. Lennon objected to losing the spot, though, so the two songs were marketed as the first-ever double-A-side single.

Though We Can Work It Out charted higher, Day Tripper was the more popular live number. The Beatles played it every night on their final concert tour, up to the last show, at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on August 29th, 1966. The end of an era.


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Beatles Top 100 & The Beatles Covers Top 20 Countdown

Good friend of the blog and fellow voter AFHI has proposed a list of the best Beatles' covers. Since there are so many to choose from, a joint list would be highly impractical. So, at the speed of sound, I prepared my own Top 20 list, to be broadcast alongside our regular list, which is practical, because there are 20 songs left there too. Each day for the next five days I'll be counting down 4 songs sung by the Beatles preceded by 4 songs written by the Beatles (as a group or as solo artists), but sung by other people. I'll be expecting our friends AFHI, Recordman, Snicks and whoever else to comment on my choices and to present their own. I won't be reacting to other people's choices, however, so as not to betray the rest of my list. I'll make sweeping comments during the last day. Let's get on with it.


At #20 of my covers list is Siouxsie Sioux, the Goth Punk empress in the UK. With her group the Banshees they had a number of hits in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but more than that they had widespread critical acceptance and a dedicated group of loyal fans. In 1983 they released Dear Prudence, originally found on the Beatles' White Album (1968), as a single and were quite successful. In fact, peaking at #3 in the UK and at #10 in Ireland, it was to be their most successful single ever.


At #19 is a man we've already presented: if you look for the June 30th and July 1st entries here at GCL, you'll learn all about him. It's Disco legend Sylvester. In 1979 he covered yet another song from the White Album (1968), a favorite of mine called Blackbird. With him are Two Tons O' Fun, who were the great Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes.


As you may have noticed, my main criterion for inclusion in this list is for the cover to be as creatively removed from the original as possible. So many are trying to imitate the Beatles' sound - it simply can't be done.

While the two songs that I've already presented were by artists that appealed to a niche audience, the next two are by artists who are as big as they come. Next are Guns N' Roses, the kings of Rock from the mid 80s to the early 90s. They put their foot in their mouth a number of times, especially concerning gender and sexual politics. They sort of made up for it by singing at the Freddie Mercury memorial tribute, duetting with Elton John in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Anyway, despite their personalities, they had some great songs. One of those was Live And Let Die, McCartney's 1973 contribution to the James Bond film of the same name. At #18 in our list.


At #17, here's an artist who's as familiar as the Beatles: the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. By the way, here's a thorny question for you, the readers: should I give Jackson the full presentation when the time comes? Does he belong to the group of artists discussed here?

Back to our topic, Jacko covered Come Together, the Lennon penned song from Abbey Road (1969), in HIStory (1995), although the song was recorded back in 1988.


Now, back to our list of Beatles songs that were actually sung by the Beatles. At #20 is a McCartney penned song from the White Album (1968). Back in the U.S.S.R. is a loving tribute to the Beach Boys. In fact, there's even a Beach Boy's involvement to the creation of the track: In February 1968, McCartney played his variation on Chuck Berry's Back in the U.S.A. for Beach Boys vocalist Mike Love while the two were visiting India. Love suggested that McCartney add a California Girls-style section about the women of the Soviet Union. McCartney then recorded a loose, jovial demo of the song in May.

By the time they started work on the album version on August 22nd, though, the Beatles were at each other's throats. When McCartney criticized Starr's drumming on "USSR," Starr announced he was quitting the band, walked out and headed off for a Mediterranean vacation. The other three Beatles got back to work, recording the basic track with McCartney on drums and Lennon playing six-string bass. They finished it the next day with jet-airplane noise from a sound-effects collection. When Starr returned two weeks later, they covered his drum kit in flowers to welcome him back.


At #19 is a George Harrison song, also from the White Album (1968). It's the highest placed Harrison penned song in our list. The lyrics for While My Guitar Gently Weeps, George Harrison's first truly great Beatles song, began as an accident — but a deliberate one. Harrison composed most of the music during the Beatles' February-April 1968 trip to Rishikesh, India, but wrote its words after the band returned to England. Inspired by the relativism principle of the I Ching, Harrison pulled a book off a shelf in his parents' house, opened it to an arbitrary page and wrote a lyric around the first words he saw, which turned out to be the phrase "gently weeps." (Its source might have been Coates Kinney's much-anthologized 1849 poem "Rain on the Roof," which includes the lines "And the melancholy darkness/Gently weeps in rainy tears.")

Even though the band had recorded Harrison songs on six previous albums, the guitarist still had trouble getting John Lennon and Paul McCartney to take his contributions seriously. Lennon, for his part, later noted that "there was an embarrassing period where [George's] songs weren't that good and nobody wanted to say anything, but we all worked on them."

The initial studio recording of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, from July 25th, 1968 (later included on Anthology 3), was a subdued, nearly solo acoustic piece with an extra verse at the end, very much along the lines of Harrison's original demo. A second version, with the full band (Lennon playing organ), was recorded on August 16th and September 3rd and 5th; it eventually incorporated tape-speed trickery, maracas and a backward guitar solo that never quite yielded the "weeping" sound Harrison was looking for.

Producer George Martin had left for a monthlong vacation before the band began working on a third, electric version on September 5th, with Lennon on lead guitar and Ringo Starr contributing a heavy, lurching rhythm. That arrangement didn't quite come together, either. "They weren't taking it seriously," Harrison later remembered. "I went home that night thinking, 'Well, that's a shame,' because I knew the song was pretty good."

The next day, Harrison was giving Eric Clapton a ride from Surrey into London, when Harrison figured out how to make his bandmates focus on While My Guitar Gently Weeps: He asked the Cream guitarist to play on it. Clapton initially declined. "'Nobody [else] ever plays on Beatles records,'" Harrison recalled Clapton arguing. But Harrison replied, "Look, it's my song. I want you to play on it." (A few months earlier, Clapton had joined Harrison, McCartney and Starr to record Jackie Lomax's version of the Harrison composition Sour Milk Sea.)

With the famous guest in the studio, the other Beatles got down to business — McCartney's harmonies sound particularly inspired. As Harrison put it, "It's interesting to see how nicely people behave when you bring a guest in, because they don't really want everybody to know that they're so bitchy." Clapton's flickering filigrees and spectacular, lyrical solo brought the whole thing together, and it was finished that night. "It's lovely, plaintive," Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone in 2002. "Only a guitar player could write that. I love that song."

Clapton became one of Harrison's closest friends — as well as his potential replacement. When Harrison briefly quit the Beatles during the Let It Be sessions, Lennon's response was to snap, "If he doesn't come back by Tuesday, we'll just get Clapton."

Here's the original version:


Here's what the Cirque du Soleil did with The Beatles LOVE version:


At #18 are the two opening tracks from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967): the title track seamlessly segues into With A Little Help From My Friends. We decided to treat the two songs as one, because, really, they are.

The Beatles were looking for a way to kill their old Fab Four image altogether by late 1966, and McCartney had an idea: "I thought, 'Let's not be ourselves,'" he said, and suggested that they invent a fake band. "Everything about the album," McCartney said, "will be imagined from the perspective of these people, so it doesn't have to be the kind of song you want to write, it could be the song they might want to write." McCartney proposed the mock-Victorian-era Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (the name came from a joke with roadie Mal Evans about salt and pepper packets), and he wrote a title song to introduce the premise at the album's outset: a fiery piece of psychedelic hard rock. The Beatles were all fans of Jimi Hendrix; McCartney saw Hendrix play two nights before they recorded "Pepper." Hendrix was paying attention right back: He played "Pepper" to open his live show in London two days after the album's US release.

The Beatles cut With A Little Help From My Friends in an all-night session after the photo shoot for the Sgt. Pepper cover. At dawn, Starr trudged up the stairs to head home — but the other Beatles cajoled him into doing his lead vocal then and there, standing around the microphone for moral support. Though nervous and exhausted, Starr delivered a magnificently soulful vocal, right up to that final high note.

The lyrics about loneliness and vulnerability were in some ways more revealing than Lennon and McCartney might have written for themselves. But there's also a typical Beatle joke. As McCartney admitted, "I remember giggling with John when we wrote the lines 'What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you, but I know it's mine.' It could have been him playing with his willy under the covers, or it could have been taken on a deeper level."


Finally for today, at #17, the title song from the Beatles' first and best movie, A Hard Day's Night (1964). The song was written by Lennon, was a #1 hit all over the world and was covered by everybody from the Hoodoo Gurus to Peter Sellers.

A Hard Day's Night opens with the most famous chord in all of Rock & Roll: a radiant burst of 12-string guitar evoking the chaos and euphoria of Beatlemania at its height. The sunlight in that chord, the exhilaration of the Beatles' performance and the title's sigh of exhaustion make A Hard Day's Night a movie in itself, a compact documentary of the Beatles' meteoric rise.

"In those days, the beginnings and endings of songs were things I tended to organize," said George Martin. "We needed something striking, to be a sudden jerk into the song." At the session, Lennon played around with some fingerings for the opening chord. "It was by chance that he struck the right one," said Martin. "We knew it when we heard it." (In a February 2001 interview, Harrison said the chord is an "F with a G on top, but you'll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story." McCartney played a high D.)

The title came from a throwaway crack from Starr. "We were working all day and then into the night," he recalled, "[and] I came out thinking it was still day and said, 'It's been a hard day,' and noticing it was dark, ' . . . 's night!'" When Lennon passed the remark on to director Richard Lester, it instantly became the film's title. All they had to do was write a song to go with it. "John and I were always looking for titles," said McCartney. "Once you've got a good title, you are halfway there. With A Hard Day's Night, you've almost captured them."

Lennon wrote the song the night before the session — he scrawled the lyrics on the back of a birthday card for his son, Julian, who had just turned one — and the group cut it in a breakneck three hours. The biggest issue was Harrison's solo: A take that surfaced on a bootleg in the 1980s features him fumbling over his strings, losing his timing and missing notes. But by the time the session wrapped at 10 that night, he had sculpted one of his most memorable solos — a sterling upward run played twice and capped with a circular flourish, with the church-bell chime of his guitar echoed on piano by Martin. "George would spend a lot of time working out solos," said Geoff Emerick. "Everything was a little bit harder for him, nothing quite came easily."

Harrison also played the striking fade-out, a ringing guitar arpeggio that was also a Martin inspiration. "Again, that's film writing," Martin said. "I was stressing to them the importance of making the song fit, not actually finishing it but dangling on so that you're into the next mood."



Monday, 28 November 2016

The Beatles Top 100 Countdown & This Week's Statistics

Today we'll be counting down Nos 25-21 of the Top 100 Beatles songs of all time, according to the four wise men (Afhi, Recordman, Snicks, and yours truly). After that, we'll break down this week's statistics.


The Beatles - and especially John Lennon - drew a lot of inspiration from their personal experience, particularly in the mid and late 60s. John got more direct as time passed and it carried through to his solo career. Nowhere else was he more directly personal than on the song at #25 in our list.

The Ballad Of John And Yoko, which chronicled the events surrounding Lennon’s marriage to Yoko Ono, was released as a single in May 1969 (#1 everywhere except for the US, where it peaked at #8, due to the fact that several US radio stations declined to broadcast the song because of what they saw as sacrilegious use of the words Christ and crucify in the chorus).

On March 16th, 1969, Lennon and Yoko Ono flew to Paris to get married, the first stop on a two-week odyssey that included visits to Gibraltar (where they had the ceremony), Amsterdam (where they held the first "Bed-In" for peace) and Vienna (where they gave a press conference from inside a white bag as a peace protest). Hostile reporters accused the couple of co-opting the peace movement as a publicity stunt. "The press came expecting to see us f*cking in bed," Lennon told Rolling Stone. "We were just sitting in our pajamas saying, 'Peace, brother.'" The trip became the heart of The Ballad of John and Yoko. "We were having a very hard time," said Ono, "but he made [the song] into a comedy rather than a tragedy."

Lennon was in a hurry to release it, so he and McCartney overdubbed all of the instruments on April 14th. (Starr and Harrison were away.) "Paul knew that people were being nasty to John, and he just wanted to make it well for him," said Ono. "Paul has a very brotherly side to him."


At #24 there's another Lennon song from the same period. Come Together is a song from Abbey Road (1969) and was also released as a double-sided single with Harrison's Someting (#1 US, #4 UK).

Come Together originated as a campaign slogan for Timothy Leary, who was running for governor of California against Ronald Reagan in the 1970 election. The LSD guru and his wife, Rosemary, were invited to Montreal for John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Bed-In" in June 1969, and they sang along on the recording of Give Peace a Chance (and were given a shout-out in the lyrics). Lennon asked Leary if there was anything he could do to help his candidacy.

"The Learys wanted me to write them a campaign song," Lennon told Rolling Stone, "and their slogan was 'Come together.'" He knocked out what he called "a chant-along thing," and Leary took the demo tape home and aired it on some radio stations.

But Lennon decided that he wanted to do something else with the lyric he had started, rather than finish the Leary campaign song. "I never got around to it, and I ended up writing Come Together instead," he said. When he brought his new song in for the Abbey Road sessions, it was much faster than the final version and more obviously modeled on Chuck Berry's You Can't Catch Me — the opening line, "Here come old flat-top," is a direct lift from Berry's 1956 recording. (Shortly after the release of Abbey Road, Berry's publisher charged the Beatles with copyright infringement; the case was settled in 1973, with Lennon agreeing to record three songs owned by the company — two Berry songs on the Rock 'n' Roll album and Lee Dorsey's Ya Ya on Walls and Bridges.)

Paul McCartney had a few suggestions for how to improve the song, as he recalled in The Beatles Anthology: "I said, 'Let's slow it down with a swampy bass-and-drums vibe.' I came up with a bass line, and it all flowed from there." Lennon said that the "over me" break at the end of the chorus began as an Elvis parody. The lyrics are a rapid-fire pileup of puns, in-jokes and what he called "gobbledygook" that he made up in the studio. The message was clear when he cried out at the end of the second verse, "One thing I can tell you is you got to be free." But for Lennon, the hypnotic rhythm was the most important thing: "It was a funky record — it's one of my favorite Beatles tracks. It's funky, it's bluesy, and I'm singing it pretty well."

After the antagonism of Let It Be, it was almost impossible to imagine the band returning to this sort of creative collaboration. "If I had to pick one song that showed the four disparate talents of the boys and the ways they combined to make a great sound, I would choose Come Together," George Martin said. "The original song is good, and with John's voice it's better. Then Paul has this idea for this great little riff. And Ringo hears that and does a drum thing that fits in, and that establishes a pattern that John leapt upon and did the ["shoot me"] part. And then there's George's guitar at the end. The four of them became much, much better than the individual components."

Come Together was the final flicker of this rejuvenated spirit: It was the last song all four Beatles cut together.

Here are the Beatles with the song from Abbey Road:


Here's a solo live recording by Lennon:


We've just mentioned that Come Together was a double-sided single with Harrison's Something. They also lay side by side on Abbey Road. Well, the song at #23 turns out to be Something.

On February 25th, 1969, his 26th birthday, George Harrison recorded three demos at EMI studios. He did two takes each of Old Brown Shoe, which would end up as the B side of Let It Be, and All Things Must Pass, the title song of his 1970 solo album. He also took a pass at a winsome ballad that he had written on piano during a break in the White Album sessions in 1968: Something. "George's material wasn't really paid all that much attention to — to such an extent that he asked me to stay behind after [everyone else had gone]," says engineer Glyn Johns, who recorded the demos. "He was terribly nice, as if he was imposing on me. And then he plays this song that just completely blows me away."

Harrison initially believed the song was so catchy he must have heard it before: "I just put it on ice for six months because I thought, 'That's too easy!'" The opening lyric — "Something in the way she moves" — was a James Taylor song from his 1968 Apple Records debut. (Harrison had attended sessions for Taylor's record and sang backup vocals on another song.) "In my mind," Harrison said, "I heard Ray Charles singing Something." Still, he didn't necessarily think it was good enough for the Beatles.

He even gave the song to Joe Cocker, who recorded it first. When Harrison finally presented Something to the other Beatles, they loved it. John Lennon said Something was "the best track on the album." Paul McCartney called it the best song [Harrison has] written." "It took my breath away," producer George Martin later said, "mainly because I never thought that George could do it. It was tough for him because he didn't have any springboard against which he could work, like the other two did. And so he was a loner."

The other Beatles worked on Something for several months, editing, arranging and rerecording it to perfection. In a reversal, Harrison became musical director, telling McCartney how to play the bass line. "It was a first," engineer Geoff Emerick said. "George had never dared tell Paul what to do." At the final session, Harrison shared the conductor's podium with Martin during the string overdubs and recut his guitar solo, a sparkling combination of dirty-blues-like slide and soaring romanticism, live with the orchestra.

Something eventually became the second-most-covered Beatles song, behind Yesterday. Charles would in fact sing it, on his 1971 album, Volcanic Action of My Soul. Frank Sinatra would describe it as "the greatest love song of the past 50 years" (although he often introduced it as a Lennon-McCartney composition).

"He was nervous about his songs," Martin said of Harrison, "because he knew that he wasn't the number-one [songwriter] in the group. He always had to try harder." But with Something, the guitarist proved himself to his peers, and to the world. Here it is:


Here's George, from The Concert for Bangladesh (1971):


At #22 is We Can Work It Out, a true collaboration between Paul and John, with Paul on lead and John on harmony vocals. It was the Beatles first double-sided single (coupled with Day Tripper) and when released in December 1965, it shot to the top of the charts all over the world.

We Can Work It Out plunges the listener into the middle of an argument, a good-cop/bad-cop seesaw between hopeful choruses and verses full of warnings: "Our love may soon be gone." It's a McCartney song that grew out of an argument with girlfriend Jane Asher. Lennon contributed the pessimistic minor-key bridge: "Life is very short, and there's no time for fussing and fighting." ("You've got Paul writing 'we can work it out,'" Lennon said. "Real optimistic, and you know, me, impatient.")

The group stumbled upon an old harmonium in the studio. McCartney remembered thinking, "This'd be a nice color on it." In the verses, with the "suspended chords . . . that wonderful harmonium sound gives it a sort of religious quality," Ray Davies of the Kinks told Rolling Stone in 2001. Harrison suggested switching the rhythm in the bridge from a straight 4/4 rhythm to waltz time. With the signature change, the vintage instrument evoked a circus-carousel feel — a vibe that the Beatles would return to two years later on Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! on Sgt. Pepper. The 11 hours they spent on We Can Work It Out was by far the longest amount of studio time devoted to a Beatles track up to that point.

The tension in the lyrics between a hopeful McCartney and a saturnine Lennon foreshadows the ways in which they would move apart. "They were going through one of their first periods of disunity, so maybe it's a subtext to where the band was," Davies observed. "This is one of my little theories: Every career has its story, and if you look at the song titles, it sums up what they were doing."


Finally for today, at #21 is a Lennon song called Across The Universe. One night in 1967, the phrase "words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup" came to Lennon after hearing his then-wife Cynthia, according to Lennon, "going on and on about something". Later, after "she'd gone to sleep – and I kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream", Lennon went downstairs and turned it into a song. He began to write the rest of the lyrics and when he was done, he went to bed and forgot about them.

The words to Across the Universe were "purely inspirational and were given to me," said Lennon. "I don't own it; it came through like that." The song is a paean to cosmic awareness, with serene ruminations like "Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind" and a refrain that names Guru Dev, the guru under whom the Maharishi himself studied. "It's one of the best lyrics I've written," Lennon told Rolling Stone. "In fact, it could be the best. It's good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin' it."

Lennon was dissatisfied with the Beatles' recorded version, originally cut for the White Album. (David Bowie would later cover the song, with Lennon on guitar.) Engineer Geoff Emerick recalled taping the lead vocal "over and over again because John was unhappy with the job he was doing. . . . It hadn't come out the way he'd heard it in his head." For Let It Be, producer Phil Spector slowed down the original recording and added a choir and orchestra. Said Lennon, "Spector took the tape and did a damn good job with it."


Now, let's move on to this week's statistics. It was a week that restored the status quo in a way: the weekly Top Seven is exactly the same as last week, Russia has moved up a place, while Canada returned to the Ten after a while. There is once more a presence from the Far East. This time, instead of Hong Kong it's Japan.

The full Top 10 is as follows:

1. the United States
2. Greece
3. the United Arab Emirates
4. the Netherlands
5. France
6. the United Kingdom
7. Germany
8. Russia
9. Japan
10. Canada

Here are the other countries that graced us with their presence this week (alphabetically): Argentina, Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Belgium, Brazil, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Kuweit, Latvia, Lebanon, Morocco, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam. Happy to have you all!

In the all-time list there have also been changes: most importantly, the United Arab Emirates, after another great week, have moved past Cyprus and Canada and now occupy the 7th place. The countries in positions 7-11 are still very close to one another, and the countries just below the Top 10 (Italy, the Netherlands) are also very close, so things are really hot in the bottom half of the list. Here's the all-time Top 10:

1. the United States = 46.8%
2. Greece = 18.3%
3. Russia = 7.9%
4. Germany = 3.4%
5. France = 2.7%
6. the United Kingdom = 2.6%
7. the United Arab Emirates = 1.08%
8. Canada = 0.98%
9. Cyprus = 0.92%
10. Ireland = 0.84%


That's all for today, folks. Till the next one!